Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hate the Statistics, Not the Statistician

I’m going to spell out how the next few entries are going to be laid out, and identify terminology, mostly the players in the game.  A couple of observations & stats, and good to go.  

Giant disclaimer: All of this is from my own research, is my own opinion, and please, under NO circumstances, should be misconstrued by anyone to be something worth suing me over. I continue to read about this, and am learning (horrifying) new stuff all the time. Most recently, I've read "Not Just A Pretty Face" by Stacy Malkan, and "No More Dirty Looks" by Siobahn O'Connor and Alexandra Spunt. I've learned a HUGE amount from them, although I haven't quoted anyone directly, I've only summarized.

At conference, Jojo (I may use you as a generic-proxy for anyone who ever asks me anything, J,) asked a couple of specific questions, which I will answer. I can partially answer one, now but I have more research to do on the other.

Her first question (more a comment) was about hair products, shampoos, conditioners, etc. It turns out her concern is very valid, and my presumption that they are of low concern turned out to probably be wrong, since we tend to use these products in the shower, when our pores are open, and our scalp has a very rich blood supply. If we assume, based upon the ingredients, that these products are a risk, then we have to assume they’re a higher risk under these conditions. I will have alternatives for you in a future post (which will be in one of the first few, so I’m not going to leave you hanging) if you’re inclined to either make your own shampoo, or spend a crapload of cash on it.

Which brings me to a very important point: there is no proof that any product will increase our chances of a recurrence of cancer, cause cancer, or cause other metabolic disorders & disruptions which I will mention. There have been no wide-spread studies of hair stylists that show adverse effects, and they have their hands (and lungs) exposed to these chemicals all day, every day. I have not observed that there is a disproportionate number of stylists that develop cancer or infertility, and to my knowledge, there has been no study that shows it. So. There’s that.

Instead of going product by product, I’m going to talk first about ingredients, in the next few posts. I think it’s a more efficient way of ordering the toxins, and that way you can copy/paste ingredients into another document if you want, so you can know what to look for while you’re shopping. I'm continuing to learn & read more books, so I will revisit ingredients in the future, I'm sure.

I cannot overstate this next fact, so I’m going to over elaborate it in print:

You cannot believe the front of the bottle. Never, ever. The ONLY truth you can find on any product’s packaging is the ingredient list, and even that is usually a half-truth.

Please read that again.

That said, ultimately, this is the world we live in, and it’s got a lot of products. We each have to draw our own line in the sand. One of us may decide to go completely natural, and eliminate all products that contain the identified dangerous ingredients, and another may pick and choose what works best for her. Anyone may say “screw it” and roll the dice on all of it. (Although I doubt they’re reading a blog about dangerous personal care products.) In my opinion, any of these approaches is ok, because you gotta live. Personally, my line in the sand goes as far as hair color (nobody wants to see my natural color, if you can even call it that,) and nail polish. I can NOT get past the damn nail polish. I think I just need the color for mental health reasons. Of course, that may change. Life has to be flexible, we have to be flexible. Everything can turn on a dime, and everything we think we know, well… suddenly it can all come out from under you. And usually, we can’t know why. So, stressing about this is probably useful to a degree. Over-stressing about this is probably destructive to a greater degree.

A note about going natural: Just because something is "natural" does not mean it doesn't have adverse effects on our bodies. I'm not a fan of lavender and tea-tree oils, or soy, especially for women whose cancers were hormone positive. I am especially concerned with the use of these on males, particularly children. Most particularly, the use on boys' genitals, such as bath products and baby wipes.  These are translated as estrogens in our bodies, and are linked to feminization in young boys. I don't mean to say baby wipes are making your boys gay, there is no evidence of that, and I don't care anyway. But I am saying that just as the average age of breast cancer is declining, so is the average age of testicular cancer, and prostate cancer. Plus, male infertility could be affected. It's serious shit.

Further, all that effing chemo that made me so sick, and my hair fell out? Know where the ingredients for those drugs come from? Mostly rain forests. Taxol is derived from pine bark. It's so toxic that many women have an anaphylactic reaction to their first dose. My point is that "natural" as a term, will tend to indicate an ingredient with little or no manipulation, but everything is a chemical.

I’m not going to try to defend animal testing, because obvs, that’s indefensible. There’s nothing ok about torturing animals. However. At least the beauty industry was testing ingredients. They don’t have to, and from what I can tell, the only real knowledge currently gained from the effects of the ingredients used in our products is from when humans break. Even that cannot be definitively traced to any ingredient(s), and the beauty industry is very quick to disregard it. (Not that they really paid attention to the data they gained from torturing bunnies.)

Also, none of us can claim a moral victory over animal testing, because knowledge gained from the days when they put lipstick into the eyes of bunnies cannot be ungained. Every bottle you buy that says “never tested on animals” comes at the expense of the animals tested on the products that came before. Perhaps we can claim an ethical victory, but even that’s hollow, because now we’re the bunnies. Again, I’m not advocating animal testing. I’m merely pointing out that it’s them or us, and we’ve largely saved them, but at our own expense, and the expense of our children and fetuses. It’s just something to think about.

That said, there is some terminology to get out of the way, mostly organizations that I may reference, so you can keep track of who’s who, and what they do, or are supposed to do.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA):  They technically have the ability to ban ingredients, but they almost never do. They do not routinely test products, and they don’t require any evidence that a product or ingredient is safe. Their purview is that they require the industry to “adequately substantiate safety, or carry a warning label,” but then they never define what that substantiation requires, or what safety means.

About 35 years ago, the beauty industry convinced the FDA to allow the industry to self-regulate. (Self-regulation. Think about that. It's an oxymoron. The beauty industry is allowed to decide that their products are safe, without any oversight. Nobody’s there to tell them that the product they just spent $100,000 developing is hazardous, or needs tweaking for safety. Scary as hell.)

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): They regulate toxicants in our environment, but have an incredibly hard time getting anything done, because the burden of proof is on them if they want to have any substance banned. So, if they wanted, say, pthalates, banned, they would have to show proof (aka: corpses) that pthalates causes harm (aka: death.) Not speculation, not evidence, PROOF. They have to be able to show for sure that it was pthalates that caused the death of this pile of bodies, and nothing else. The EPA hasn't tried to have anything banned since they lost the asbestos battle. (Yeah. They freaking LOST!) 

Cosmetics Ingredients Review (CIR): This is the beauty industry’s self-regulating body. It’s a panel of “experts” which is heavily populated by dermatologists and chemists. The dermatologists tend to be concerned, as you may be able to guess, with skin irritation. They aren’t thinking about the reproductive system, the endocrine system, effects on a fetus, etc.They have no authority over the industry, and cannot require removal of any ingredients. They can only make recommendations, which they never do.  A little bitty statistic here to illustrate how diligent the CIR is, and remember that their whole job is to review cosmetics ingredients, hence their name:

11% of ingredients used in personal care products have been CIR tested.

Cosmetics, Toiletries, and Fragrance Association (CTFA): This is the body of representatives from the beauty industry. It’s like the Bar Association, or American Medical Association of beauty. All of the biggies belong, and it’s a well-funded body. Basically, they’re the agency’s bodyguards. They’re on the forefront of identifying industry threats (probably kooks like me, but mostly kooks like Safecosmetics.org and SkinDeep, etc.) They literally treat anyone questioning the safety of the products as a threat, and spend a lot of energy falling back on their “data” that shows that their products are safe.

Environmental Working Group (EWG): These guys are a group that reviews the safety of ingredients. Along with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, they are accumulating data about the ingredients that make up personal care products, and are pushing for regulation. They have developed the Skin Deep Database of ingredients, which identifies ingredients, matches up ingredients with products, and provides a rating for the supposed safety of that product.

The information they use to determine the safety of any ingredient comes from a big book of ingredients comprised for working environment safety and their demonstrated (or supposed) health hazards. (Shout out to Jane Houlihan of EWG for finding this goldmine, and coming up with the idea of a database… and Skin Deep is born!)

Compact for Safe Cosmetics (CSA): Safe Cosmetics asks beauty industry companies to sign this pledge that promises to remove identified hazards. The biggies (Unilever, Revlon,  & Estee Lauder are the big three,) don’t sign. The natural companies are eager to sign. Personally, I recommend using this database and the CSA for purchasing products. At least these companies give a shit.

And finally, the European Union (EU): They’re Europe’s FDA, only they work. Their approach is more “safe for consumers” than “being the beauty industry’s bitch.” The EU has banned over 1,100 ingredients from personal care products. (The FDA has banned 11.)

So, let’s pause to think about that. The beauty industry has already reformulated all of the products they sell in Europe, so how hard would it be to simply reformulate for safety in America? It’s a mystery. I really don’t get it. You’d think it would be easier just to streamline, but no.

Not only don’t they reformulate for safety in America, but many companies target populations (African-American, Asian) here and abroad, and their health hazards are compounded. For African-Americans, it’s because they use more products than Caucasian women. African American women use 21% of hair care products, but comprise only 12% of the US population. They’re also more likely to get facials, use bath products, regularly get mani/pedis, use scented products, and wear lipstick.

Korean and other Asian populations (basically populations of color) are heavily targeted for skin lightening creams, which contain one of the top seven carcinogenic agents (hydroquinone,) and in extremely high concentrations. These concentrations have been recorded up to 65% higher than allowed in American products. Further, the instructions are often that they apply these creams twice daily, and let them sit on their skin.

Am I suggesting overt racism? I’m not sure. I am certainly suggesting that this is evidence that they prey upon our insecurities. They have found specific demographics that seem to be sensitive to appearing a certain way, or self-adornment, or some sense of not being good enough, and capitalize on it. I think I’ll do a future entry on self-image and photoshopping. Someone remind me to do that, ok?

OK, I think that’s enough for now. These are the major players in the game, and this is the game. Next entry will start with ingredients.

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